Obituary: Gaston Berlemont

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IN HIS obituary of Gaston Berlemont [11 November], Philip Hoare writes of the York Minster pub being popular with the Free French forces during the Second World War and adds, "Charles de Gaulle is supposed to have visited". I was told by Jean Marin, who broadcast for Free France from the BBC, that de Gaulle certainly went to the pub once, writes Professor Douglas Johnson. He regarded it as important for his forces since they could leave their names with Victor Berlemont and through this very unofficial register could discover that some relative had also escaped to England. Many French sailors especially benefited from this.

De Gaulle's visit was not a great success. There were Free French people there and they stood rigidly to attention immediately the General walked in. The English also fell silent. The General drank a glass of wine and spoke with Victor. For as long as he was there the pub was stilled. When he left it became even more animated than usual.

In April 1960 de Gaulle, then President of the Republic, made an official visit to London. Gaston Berlemont turned out to watch him during one of his journeys round the capital. To his surprise the General pointed at him, "Not as fine as your father's," he said. He was referring to Gaston's whiskers.

The pub displayed de Gaulle's famous poster of June 1940, that which said that France had lost a battle but had not lost the war. It stayed in place until it was stolen, in the Seventies.